Kanji Disassembled #142: 算 “Calculation”

Calculation. On its own, this kanji represents this meaning. Although you don’t get to see this kanji on its own fairly often. This kanji usually a part of another compound and lent its “calculation” meaning into it. Examples are:

• けいさん “Calculation.” Combined with 計 “to measure,” this compound gives a stronger sense of calculation. Should invoke an image of doing the actual calculation.
• さん “Estimate; Budget.” Combined with 予 “prediction,” it is fairly natural to goes from “prediction” and “calculation” to “estimate.”
• さんすう “Arithmetic.” Combined with 数 “number,” this kanji represents the nightmare for most students. Maths. Calculating number? Maths? Obvious connection.

This kanji is probably divisible into three separate parts shown at the top of this post. The top part of this kanji is a radical for “bamboo.” Basically, whenever you see this on a kanji, it almost always represents a “bamboo” meaning. Observe its resemblance to an actual bamboo from this image.

The middle part of this kanji is said to represent a picture of an “abacus.” And the bottom part of this kanji is said to represent fingers that were using the said “abacus.” It is probably too complicated to draw the individual beads on the abacus and the ten fingers that were using it, so they were simplified as such.

To this day, abacus were still used as a calculator in China. I personally think that the merchants purposely kept this practice of counting with an abacus because it looks cool, and it exudes a certain mystic aura that may help their business. Who knows?

Now because there are still demands for this little thing, some people are undoubtedly made a living by making them. Chances are, you name a material, wood, plastic, stone, metal, even gold, there’s an abacus made from it. But back then, during the time when kanji was invented, abacus was maybe mostly made by the most common material found back then. A bamboo.

And there you have it. An image of fingers, using an abacus, made from bamboo to indicate the meaning of “calculation.”

Kanji Disassembled #9: 花 “Flower”

Flower. Beautiful as they were, they begin as something humble. A “grass” (top part of this kanji, second picture) if you will. It would then grows, changing its shape, just like how a “person” (イ, left part of this kanji, third picture), grows to an “old man” (ヒ, right part of this kanji, fourth picture).

All three parts of this kanji, “grass,” “person,” and “old man” are called “radicals”. Radicals are a part of a kanji that is reusable and used as part of another, different kanji. These radicals usually retains its original meaning and often contributes their respective meanings into the story that made up the kanji it belongs to.

This kanji is an example of it. “Grass,” “Person,” and “Old man” together forming a story for “Flower.”

Kanji Disassembled #156: 秋 “Autumn”

Autumn is  that magical season where leaves turn gold and smell of dead leaves mingled with fresh rain is probably as close as you could get to a heaven. This word is represented by a single kanji 秋・あき or “aki.” As shown in the image above, this kanji has a clear two distinct parts as its components.

The first part, the left part, came from a pictograph of a “rice plant.” As you can see for yourself, the resemblance is quite an obvious one. Generally, if you came across this symbol in a kanji, it usually has a connected meaning with a “rice plant” or “plant” in general.

The second part, the right part, stand on its own as a kanji for “fire” (火・ひ or “hi”) as it resembles a burning bonfire.

If we were to combine, “plant” and “fire” would always result in a “burned plant.” This “burned plant” then, in turn, would invoke an image of yellow and red, the colour of fire, colours that were, not coincidentally, often associated with “autumn.”

Cultural Note: If Summer has 花火・はなび・hanabi or “fireworks,” Spring has 花見・はなみ・hanami or “flower viewing,” Autumn has 紅葉・こうよう・kouyou or “leaf viewing” where you would go to temples, parks, or mountains to see the magnificent colour of leaves on autumn. The kanji for this activity, 紅葉 literally means “crimson leaf.” Not just a simple red, but crimson.